EBS Coaching & Leadership Conference: Peer coaching programs for working parents
The EBS Coaching & Leadership Conference will take place on 07 and 08 July 2023. One of the top speakers is Dr Nannette Reuther. In the interview, she provides some initial insights into her lecture topic.
EBS: You will be a speaker at the EBS Coaching & Leadership Conference on 7 and 8 July. The topic you will be talking about is: "Peer coaching programmes for working parents - innovative concepts for talent retention based on a practical example at Philip Morris International. What can visitors expect and look forward to?
Dr Nannette Reuther: Participants can look forward to learning about an innovative approach that has proved to help companies and managers increase the length of time employees stay with the company. With peer coaching, companies present themselves as attractive employers on the labour market and also within the company. Coaching can positively and sustainably support working parents in their role as parents and as employees. Furthermore, training inhouse peer coaches gives them the chance to learn new skills and to apply these effectively.
Many companies implement various measures in the context of Diversity % Inclusion (D&I) or Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) without achieving the hoped-for success. Inspiring employees to join the employer's company and retaining them has become one of the greatest challenges. It is particularly painful to lose employees who wish to start or expand their families. Many of them do not know how to accommodate work and family. In Germany, 86% of all employees are parents.
Who listens to these people and takes their concerns and wishes seriously? How do they get heard in the company? What can they do to take care of themselves and, at the same time, not lose sight of their professional and private goals and wishes. We will be addressing these interesting issues and also demonstrating what coaching can achieve here. We need an open discussion culture to find answers and create sustainable proposals. This, in turn, requires a safe space to think more deeply and to find a partner to discuss ideas and solutions. This is where the parents@work peer coaching programme comes in. We train coaches in the company who are available as coaches for their colleagues. This makes coaching available to ALL employees, regardless of their position or length of employment.
Therefore, during the coaching conference we will demonstrate how coaching can be an effective and also measurable tool for a company's D&I concept.
We will present the mission that guides us at parents@work, our peer coaching programme and a client's case study. Ms Laura Alvarez, Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Philip Morris International will be joining us via video link to share what she has experienced at PMI. Participants will hear what has been achieved at PMI and in particular how a peer coaching programme creates a culture Finally, we will look at how everyone can get involved in this topic.
EBS: You are a partner of the company parents@work, which develops corporate coaching programmes. These assist in supporting employees and managers in successfully combining parenthood and work in the long term. What challenges and patterns do you encounter time and time again in your coaching sessions?
Dr Nannette Reuther: As a coach, I repeatedly encounter various challenges and patterns faced by parents who want to combine work with family. Some of the most common problems and patterns are:
- Time management: parents often have difficulties planning and prioritising their time effectively. They have to juggle between work, childcare and household chores and often find it difficult to strike a balance. Instead of consciously organising and experiencing everyday life, it tends to be a question of just somehow coping.
- Feelings of guilt: Many parents feel guilty when they spend time away from the family, or vice versa, when they stay at home and do not have enough time for their work. It can be difficult to let go of these feelings of guilt and allow yourself to have time for both.
- Support: Parents, in particular mothers, often feel that they have to do everything on their own and do not get enough support from their partner or other members of the family. This can lead to overload and stress. In my experience, I know what a positive effect it can have when in particular mothers can break free from this image and weight of expectation of having to do everything themselves.
- Growing your career: Parents can have difficulties achieving their career goals while also having to consider their family's needs. They often forego career opportunities or make compromises without first taking enough time to consider other courses of action as well as the multiple consequences of their decisions.
- Visibility: Parents often do not take the time to build and maintain a network to be visible in their company (or perhaps outside it). Training and development are also often neglected. As a rule, all these activities are rationalised away, even though precisely these are key to a career.
- Flexibility: Parents need flexible working conditions in order to meet their family's needs, e.g. working from home, part-time work or flexible working hours. However, it can be difficult to find or negotiate such working conditions.
- Stress: Parents can feel stressed when trying to balance work and family. This stress can be both physical and psychological and can lead to burnout or other health issues.
- Unawareness: Before the birth of their first child, parents often do not anticipate how profound the changes will be. Plans they have made turn out to be unrealistic or too optimistic. They are really disappointed when the plan to (re-)enter professional life after maternity leave or parental leave does not work out as planned.
These challenges and patterns can occur in different forms and at different times. Parents often have their own individual challenges. As a coach, I motivate parents to develop their individual solutions that meet their specific needs and wishes and help them to find a balance between work and family.
As partner at parents@work, I support companies in setting up coaching services within the company and to offer these with the help of inhouse employees' peer coaching. We also offer peer coaching circles for managers and workshops with parent networks, so-called ERGs (Enterprise Resource Groups), bringing working parents together.
Here, it is also important to consider the different phases of parental leave. A particular challenge is that balancing has to be done again and again, and a balance is never permanent. Balancing is an ongoing task for parents. This makes it all the more important to support parents not only during pregnancy and/or directly after returning from parental leave, but rather that this an ongoing process.
EBS: You are a mother of six children and were yourself at a point in your life when your former employer forced you to decide against or for the family. As a result, you left the company. What has to change in companies so that people with children are not confronted with this ultimatum?
Dr Nannette Reuther: I didn't really have to decide for or against my family. That was not my employer's intention either. It just felt that way because there was no discussion culture for the issues affecting parents. Also, there were just no role models and thus hardly any understanding for the situation I was currently in with my family.
Looking back, it was a missed opportunity for both sides. My employer lost a very experienced, loyal and successful member of staff. Moreover, when I left there was no role model for future working mothers. I myself initially gave up the chance to continue my career in this company, even though I did return years later.
There are a number of things companies can do to ensure that people with children do not feel they are faced with the choice between family and career. I would like to name a few suggestions here:
- Flexibility in working hours: flexible working hours allow employees to adapt their working hours to their family commitments, whether through part-time work, job sharing, flexitime or flexible working hours.
- WFH possibilities: Companies should offer WFH options to give parents the chance to work from home and balance their work with their family commitments.
- Support for regular childcare: Companies can help their employees by offering childcare facilities at or near the workplace or home, or by providing financial support for childcare.
- Emergency childcare: In the office, companies can provide a room in case regular childcare is temporarily not available and a solution has to be found at short notice. The children can then be looked after together in this room. In time of WFH, there are now also organisations with which companies can cooperate. These companies guarantee emergency childcare at short notice.
- A room for breastfeeding: By setting up a breastfeeding and resting room, companies make it clear that they take the needs of pregnant women and young mothers seriously.
- Mentoring and coaching: Companies can offer mentoring and coaching programmes to help people with children to achieve their career goals and develop their skills.
- Equality and diversity: companies should promote equality and diversity to ensure that people have equal opportunities for career development and promotion, regardless of their family commitments.
- Parental leave: companies should offer generous parental leave schemes that enable parents to spend time with their children without jeopardising their careers. This applies equally to mothers and fathers.
- Cultural change: companies should promote a culture that supports family-friendliness and flexibility and does not discriminate or tolerate disadvantages due to family commitments.
- Making parental skills visible and appreciable. Parents gain and strengthen numerous skills throughout their parenthood, which of great interest to companies. Companies can support employees, for instance through coaching, in becoming aware of their exceptional skills and encourage and appreciate the transfer of these skills to the company. These skills include, for instance, organisational skills, stress management, communication, empathy, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership, to name but a few.
These measures can contribute to people with children not being faced with the choice between family and career and achieving a better work-life balance. At the same time, such offers foster a sense of being heard, valued and supported among employees. This, in turn, motivates employees to get involved in making work-life balance work and encourages them to stay with the company longer.
EBS: As a working person with children, you often feel that you are not doing justice enough to either your job or your family. What tips can you give them to appease both the "mind monkey" and a guilty conscience?
Dr Nannette Reuther: First of all, it is important to realise that as a working person with children, it is normal to often feel that your are not doing justice enough to either your job or your family. Many people have this feeling, and it is a challenge that many families face. From my wealth of experience, I am happy to share some tips that can help to calm that merry-go-round in one's mind and also that feeling of guilt.
- Prioritise: Set clear priorities and consciously make time for your family and for your job. Plan your time and make sure you have enough time for both.
- Delegate: it is important to learn to delegate tasks. In a work context this can mean handing on tasks to colleagues or building a team to help you. In family life this may mean that your partner or children take over certain tasks.
- Forgive yourself: it is important to forgive yourself and not be too hard on yourself. No-one can do everything perfectly all the time. Cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to make mistakes.
- Look for support: it can be helpful to look for support from friends, family or professional helpers. It can be a relief to have someone to talk to about your feelings or to help you with your tasks.
- Be able to accept support: it is not a sign of weakness or being "not good enough" to be able to accept support, quite the contrary, it is a sign of strength. If you can accept support, you can protect yourself better. It is important to realise that it is not always possible to cope with everything alone. By accepting support, you can unburden yourself and free up time and energy for other important things. It is also an opportunity to strengthen your relationships with friends and family members by involving them in your life and challenges.
- Recognise and celebrate success: Don't forget to always take a look back and see what you have already achieved and coped with. Give yourself credit for it and enjoy the moment.
Ultimately, it is important to recognise that it is normal to feel overwhelmed as a parent. With the right strategies and a little patience and self-care, you can calm that mental merry-go-round and guilty conscience and find a balance between work and family.
A particular tip from me is: try to guide your children from a coach's perspective. Ask yourself, for instance: what delights me about my child? What do I want my relationship with my child to be when he or she is grown up? What do I enjoying doing with my child and how can I do this more often? What do I want to achieve with my child in our relationship in the next six months? Being a parent can be much easier if we engage with our children and treat them with respect.
EBS: As a working mother. you are certainly kept busy on all fronts. What do you do when it all gets too much, and you need a short break to wind down?
Dr Nannette Reuther: That is an extremely significant question, and I would encourage all parents to ask themselves this question, too. To be "good" parents, we need to first of all take care of ourselves. In my opinion, a parent's primary responsibility is to take care of their own well-being. The more we are in tune with ourselves and find inner tranquillity, the better we can take care of others. For example, imagine the following situation: most of us have, at some time, travelled by plane. Do you know the announcement that goes something like this: "In the event of a drop in pressure, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the cabin ceiling. Put you own mask over your mouth and nose first, then help children travelling with you."
In a nutshell: first we make sure that we are in good shape ourselves so that we can then help others. My husband and I have declared that we can always say, "I need a short break", without our partner taking this as doubting our decision to have children. It is important to know where we can draw our strength from. It can be a walk or jog outdoors, listening to music, taking a bath, going out with a friend for the evening or simply lighting a candle. It is important that we find out which resources give us strength. This all depends on many different factors.
I have a quite simple little ritual: when everything seems a bit overwhelming and I don't know where to begin, I start by making myself a pot of tea. Just the fact that I interrupt whatever I'm doing and sit down in one place brings some relief. Holding a warm cup in my hands just feels good. Then I grab a pen and paper and write down what's on my mind - a classic. In this way, I clear my brain of many thoughts and that merry-go-round slows down. Then I sort by urgency and importance and finally I look for the so-called "low-hanging fruits", i.e. what can be done relatively easily and quickly and at the same time gives me a sense of achievement. This gives me the strength and courage to tackle the rest. And suddenly the world looks a lot better again.
As a coach, I know it's a question of perception: I may not be able to dispel all problems and worries, but I can rethink my attitude and what it does to me and change it if necessary. I also do sport regularly. During this time, I am neither mother nor coach but simply myself. That feels good. My children are now also at an age where I can tell them that it's a bit much for me right now and ask if they can help me. It's amazing what effect it has on children when parents don't have to be superheroes but also have their weaknesses. Often the children also have clever ideas or suggestions on how they can help each other and also us parents without mother (or father) having to do everything. In the process, they also learn to be independent and to support each other.
In conclusion, it can be said that it is extremely important for parents to care for themselves and retain their equilibrium. By paying attention to our own physical and mental state, we are able to take the best care of our children. The plane announcement underlines the fact that we must make sure that we put on our own "oxygen masks" first, before helping others.
It is important to accept help and look for support when we feel overwhelmed. By identifying our own source of strength and regularly taking time out for ourselves, we can boost our well-being and, therefore, be in a better position to care for our children. By talking openly about our limitations and showing our weaknesses, we give our children the chance to learn and become independent. By taking good care of ourselves, we can be the parents we would like to be.
Nannette Reuther is a qualified Systemic Coach, Executive Coach, Solution-Focussed Coach, Associate Certified Coach (ACC), member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), Certified Health Coach.